The French Gourmet – Restaurant Week Review

Restaurant Week Jan.Credit: http://www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com/press

It’s that time of the year again, when foodies and first-timers flock to wine and dine at all the trendy places featured for San Diego’s Restaurant Week… or should I say weeks. Restaurant Week is so successful that it has become somewhat of a habit to extend it another week along with a whole new selection of restaurants to choose from. I had the pleasure of visiting The French Gourmet last week with some friends for their $30 dinner deal. Surprisingly the wait wasn’t too bad, we had made a dinner reservation for six the day before and  they easily accommodated our group. 

From past experiences at Restaurant Week, I’ve learned that doing research prior to going to any place is vital. Just because there is a great deal being offered doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality for value. Do your research!!!
Tip: I always look at the specific Restaurant Week online menu of the place I’m interested in attending. I then check on Yelp and read current reviews as well as past Restaurant Week reviews (if any). I also consult with friends if they have been to the place or know of anyone that’s been there. 

Review: Before even stepping foot in The French Gourmet, we noticed the sparse parking surrounding the place. (Tip: Allot some time to find street parking.) To my recollection, I didn’t see any parking lot designated for the restaurant. We were lucky that night and just happend to find a spot directly across the street. When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by the host and then seated, the place was packed with other customers taking advantage of the RW deal. From the outside, the establishment looked  fairly large but on the inside, it looked about a third less than its exterior. That hardly affected my perception of the place, and I found the atmosphere to be quaint and cozy. I enjoyed looking at the paintings on the walls (done as frescos) portraying various landscapes from France, and then reminiscing about my travels in Europe.

Menus were passed around and I immediately knew what I wanted to order. The host suggest the Surf and Turf to us but I wasn’t sure if that was truly because it was a popular dish or because he wanted to push its sales. Nevertheless, I stuck to my decisions and ordered the Charcuterie Plate for my appetizer, the Duck Leg Confit for my entree, and finally the Espresso Pot de Crème for my dessert. Every now and then, I would look around to see what other people ordered and my assumptions were validated. I saw a lot of people being served the Surf and Turf, which was a small tail of lobster with a small piece of fillet mignon (medallion-sized), coupled with roasted vegetables and some dipping sauce. I’m sure the quality was great but I prefer dishes with a little more substance. When our food arrived, it was time to dig in!

Charcuterie Plate
Pâté, Fra’Mani salami, prosciutto, cornichons, pickled garlic, olives, and onion chutney.
Charcuterie Plate

The appetizer was scrumptious, each part of the platter had it’s own unique flavor and texture. The two rolled pieces were Prosciutto (my all-time favorite deli meat) and I savored each morsel. It’s hard to obtain a good pate and this one had a pretty good texture and light flavor, it didn’t have that metallic aftertaste. Thankfully we had complimentary French bread refills and I was able to use that bread for my pate.

Duck Leg Confit
With braised local kale, cipollini onions, and fingerling potatoes.
Duck Leg Confit

All I can say is, “WOW!”. The duck meat was very tender and fell right off the bone while cutting into the dish. It was a little dry on the surface but overall had great flavor. All the veggies that accompanied the duck were also cooked to perfection. I’m not normally a fan of green beans or potatoes but this dish seriously got me reconsidering adding them to my diet. However, the real star of the show was the sauce! I’ll try my best to describe it… The sauce was a compilation of all the flavors that make the winter season, everything from berries to cinnamon spice was used. It had a nice sweet taste with a tough of tartness, and complemented the duck very well. 

Espresso Pot de Crème
With sabayon and chocolate covered espresso beans.
Epresso Pot de Creme

This dessert had just the right amount of sugary sweetness I needed to finish off my dining experience. The chocolate-shaped espresso beans were a nice touch, hinting at the flavors I would find in the creme. Under the whip cream, there was a thin layer of creme that had been cooked to seal it, kind of like flan or creme brûlée but tougher. Breaking into the seal revealed all the sweet goodness of the espresso creme. It had the consistency that reminded me of flan and pudding, and was very light. 

Here are a couple of other dishes I tried with friends:

Escargots à la Bourguignone
A half dozen escargots broiled in garlic herb butter.
Escargo

This was my first time having esgarcots. All I could actually taste was the butter and the garlic. And although it had the consistency of a mushroom , I still couldn’t get passed the thought of it as a snail going down my throat. I had one and was done. I always tell myself to try something at least once. 🙂

Red Wine Braised Niman Ranch Lamb Shank
With winter vegetable ragout and truffle mashed potatoes.
Red Wine Brazed Lamb
My friend ordered this dish. This was by far the largest entree offered on the special RW menu. The lamb was juicy, flavorful, and fell right off the bone. They were very generous with the potatoes which could fill you up without having eaten anything else. Everything about this dish was delicious and a great value.

Rating: I give this place a 4 / 5 for it’s atmosphere, food, and service. The French Gourmet is a great place to take a date or go with family. The staff is friendly and checks up on you from time to time… We cracked a couple jokes with the waiters.  The food is amazing, full of flavor, and on par with the cuisine I tried when I traveled to France a few years ago. 

‘Til next time!
-AJ

‘Tis the Season to Go Shopping: Grand Re-Opening of Westfield UTC Mall

(Photo Credit: westfield.com/utc)

Last week was a very busy and exciting time for me, culminating with the grand re-opening of the University Town Center (UTC) mall in my neighborhood. UTC is the hub for families, friends, students, and of course shopaholics to congregate and enjoy good food and some retail therapy. This remodeling project has been going on for quite a while, over a year in the making, and it certainly shows with the level of attention to detail. From the new store facades, to the sleek and stylish light fixtures and cabanas, to the ultra-modern food court, Westfield UTC has it ALL. Originally, the key stores to visit were Nordstrom, Forever 21, Macy’s, and Sears. Now included on the list are other popular names like Oakley, Tiffany & Co., Tesla (car store), and my favorite addition, ArcLight Cinemas (only one in San Diego) – the ultimate movie experience!  To read more about the new additions, visit this link: www.westfield.com/utc/the-new-utc/shop

This past Thursday, friends and I attended the grand opening of the mall. The event featured celebrity host Giuliana Rancic, a performance by singer Natasha Bedingfield, and a fashion show highlighting the latest fall fashions one could find at the mall. Best of all, the event was FREE to the public! Altogether, it only lasted a couple hours but it was fun to watch the models strut down the runway and see Natasha perform some of my favorite songs live. Friday was part 2 of the grand re-opening that featured American Idol star, Jessica Sanchez, dance numbers, a choir, and a tree lighting ceremony . Photos from that day can be seen on the Westfield UTC Facebook page.

I love social networking… as you can tell, and to my surprise, the mall had an interesting contest running on Pinterest. A pop-up is currently set up in front of the new Forever 21 and each day reveals a new set of prizes to be won on the popular social network. Some of the prizes in the back were still hidden when I took this pic last week but it’s changed since then. I definitely suggest checking this mall out during your holiday shopping – enter a contest or two, watch a movie, grab a bite to eat, or simply enjoy the scenery!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

Museum Month at the Birch Aquarium

Photo Credit: sandiegomuseumcouncil.org

February marked a busy month for me but I managed to reserve a day for a little leisure by visiting the Birch Aquarium. Luckily San Diego Museum Month was still running, so I could buy tickets at half the price. For those of you who don’t know what Museum Month is, here’s a brief description: Museum Month is a yearly promotion that occurs every February. Macy’s partners with 40 local San Diego museums and attractions, offering admission for half the price. Brochures, which are valid for up to 4 people, are distributed by the local Macy’s stores for this promotion. And each museum may be visited once using the brochure’s discount. 

A couple years have passed since my last visit to the Birch Aquarium, so I thought this was the perfect time to pay a visit. I was particularly curious about the new Boundless Energy exhibit they opened to the public because I heard about it from a classmate in my marketing program. Stepping onto the patio, I was amazed at all the interactive components of the exhibit– There was a playground-like apparatus that moved water through a series of tubes and tools, creating percussive sounds. The more people that interacted with the piece, the more lively the sound that was generated. Another piece that caught my attention was the waterway-dam simulator. A series of plastic planks could be placed in a bathtub structure of flowing water. Depending on where each plank was placed, a new water channel or dam would develop. The goal of this piece was to construct a powerful flow of water to turn a submerged propeller designed to generate power. Other pieces of the Boundless Energy exhibit relied on the power of nature such as the windmills used for generating electricity. Each one was uniquely crafted and designed by local artists and engineers. The devices combined art and functionality to harness the power of the wind.

All the Boundless Energy pieces provided a very fun and interactive educational experience. My only suggestion for Birch Aquarium is that they have a representative stationed there to help teach about renewable energy and then proceed to go through the activities with the kids.  

Photo Credit: aquarium.ucsd.edu

Another highlight of my trip was the Tide Pool area, where visitors were allowed to pet the sea creatures in little habitats that simulated tide pools. The habitats had everything including little sand crabs, sea slugs, starfish, fish, and several large lobsters. This area of the museum was a hit with the kids as well.
Tip: If you plan to visit, the Tide Pools close earlier than the rest of the aquarium.

I highly recommend taking a trip to the Birch Aquarium; it’s a different experience than visiting the zoo. You get to see creatures of the deep from a whole new perspective and gain a sense of newfound knowledge. 

‘Til next time,
AJ 

Man vs. (Sea)Food!

So the time came for me to finally try the live sea urchin offered at the Poppas Fresh Fish Company booth at Brian’s Farmers Market (UTC La Jolla).  It was a VERY interesting experience.  The sea urchin cost $8 which included the labor to open, gut, and wash the dish.  For those of you who want to buy it and open it on your own, it costs $5.  I’d advise anyone who has never opened sea urchin to have the pros do it or at least watch a tutorial online before attempting this task.  The pros have the right tools such as gloves, knives, and the know-how in going about cleaning it.

For my first time eating live sea urchin, I enjoyed the experience. People walking by had mixed reactions to me eating it, which was very entertaining to watch.  Some expressed feelings of disgust while others were curious and eager to try it too.  The sea urchin had a subtle seawater smell but wasn’t overpowering.  To my surprise it tasted sweet and not salty at all with a creamy texture resembling that of gelato.


Stay tuned to see what I try next! 😀
~AJ